Set Farming is not the newest craze in urban gardening. Rather, it is one of the many tools available to you when playing poker. Specifically, set farming, also known as set mining, refers to the act of playing pocket pairs, usually low pocket pairs, with the hope of hitting a set. For some newer players, though, the idea of set farming may be entirely new, or even counter-intuitive. Early on in one’s poker game development, it makes sense to play cautiously. Heck, I even suggested that brand new players limit themselves to playing the top ten hands until they get a feel for the different boards and hand combinations in the game. But once you are ready to move beyond novice poker, set farming may become one of your most profitable, and favorite, plays.
First off, the term set farming is a hint. Your goal is to start the pot with a small seed of a bet, usually a limp for the value of the big blind, with the hope that you will hit your set and be able to grow the pot into a monster.
So, at its most basic, set farming merely requires you to limp or call small pre-flop bets with a pocket pair. Once you hit your set, you can then build the pot (through slow-playing or betting out). If you miss your set, though, you should usually fold. I use the term “usually” because if the situation allows it, a bluff may be appropriate, but we can save bluffing for another discussion.
If you have not already wondered about the math involved in set farming, then you probably need to think a bit more critically about your poker game. Math is not everything in poker, but it is a key factor that should be considered.
The chance of flopping a set while holding a pocket pair is roughly 12% (actually, 11.8%). The number is derived through this formula: (2/50) + (2/49) + (2/48). The “2” in each equation signify the two cards that you must hit to flop a set (i.e., if you have 5h5d, you must flop the 5s or the 5c in order to flop a set). The number “50” signifies the amount of unknown cards in the deck. Since you have a pocket pair, you know 2 of the 52 cards, leaving 50 from which you may hit your 2 outs. The “49” reflects the fact that after seeing the first flopped card, you now know 3 of the cards, reducing the number of unknown cards to 49. The “48” is for the third flop card, since, by then, you now know 4 of the 52 cards (i.e., your pocket pair and the first two flop cards).
Or, you can just take my word for it. The odds of flopping a set are roughly 11.8%. Now what?
The math is crucial in order to determine when it is profitable to set farm. You are only going to flop a set 11.8% of the time, or roughly 1 in 8.5 tries. So, in order to make this a profitable play, you need to be able to win 7.5x your initial bet/call in order to recover for the 7.5 times that you miss your set.
But the logic does not stop there. Sometimes, when you hit your set, your opponent will actually fold. So, you need to consider that in your calculation as well. Different people use different markers, but for my money, I like to make sure that I can win at least 10x the initial bet if I am going to set farm. This way, I can ensure that when I do hit my set and get paid, I get enough to cover all of the times I have to limp/fold (after missing the set on the flop) or the times when I flop the set but get no action.
In brief, only set farm when you can win 10x or more of your initial bet/call.
Let’s try some examples:
Example #1: You have 44 in the BB, with a 1000 stack and blinds of 25/50. A player in middle position with 5,000 in chips raises to 200. It folds to you. Should you set farm? NO! Of course not! Since you have to call 200 and the most you can win is an additional 800 (i.e., the remainder of your 1000 stack), then you cannot win enough to risk the 200.
Example #2: You have 33 in EP, with a stack of 4,000 and blinds of 50/100. You limp in early position and a player in late position with 2,000 chips raises to 400. It folds back to you. Should you set farm? NO! This time, you have enough chips, but your opponent does not. Since your opponent can only wager another 1,600 (the rest of his 2,000 stack), it is not profitable to call 400 to set farm if you can only win 1,600.
Example #3: You have 22 in late position with a stack of 10,000 and blinds of 100/200. You are first to act. The players behind you all have stacks of 5,000 or more. Can you set farm? FINALLY, YES! Why? Because all you have to do is call the small 200 BB and your potential win, depending on who else plays the hand, is 5,000, at the bare minimum. That is fine odds to set mine.
Example #4: Same as the last scenario, but after you limp, a player in middle position with 15,000 raises to 1,200. It folds back to you. Can you set mine? Well, you already put in 200, and you have to put in an additional 1,000 to call. In that case, you need to win approximately 10,000 more in order for this to be a good time to set farm. However, after the 1,200 preflop action, you will be down to a stack of 8,800. This is a borderline scenario. You cannot win 10x your bet, but you can still beat the 8.5 to 1 odds. In this case, I would say it is situation specific. I would lean toward folding, but consider calling if I think I can make an easy double up with a flopped set.
Now you have the basic concepts down. Keep in mind, though, that things like your opponents’ skill level and the texture of the flop can alter your strategy. If an Ace flops along with your set, you can often get great action from players with AK or AQ. If, however, you flop a set of 6s on a board of 962, then it may be hard to get action unless your opponent has an overpair. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you miss your set, you may still find opportunities to bluff, adding extra value to the play. And sometimes, a pocket pair of 2s is still the winner when playing against a player who likes to raise with hands like KJ or even AQ, depending on the flop.
Set farming is just another tool in your poker arsenal. Use it smartly and in the right circumstances and it can make you a tidy profit, but use it at the wrong time and it can blow up in your face. Now get farming!